Monday, November 26, 2007

Death by spiritual causes

My sister-in-law is very upset today. Her best friend's dad died today. I go home at lunch time and she is eating yam and stew with a disconsolate air. I ask her politely how he died.

Uncle Jeremy you wouldn't understand. He died of spiritual causes.

How do you mean, spiritual causes?

Uncle Jeremy leave that thing.

I left that thing. However, I wish people would stop believing in juju mumbo jumbo here though. When someone dies in these circumstances, its always poison. If only they'd do an autopsy they'd find out. What was Okija if not poison?

It reminds me of the scare a few years ago that if you answered a certain phone number, you'd die suddenly with blood coming out of your nose and ears. I found out at the time that the viral scare had started in Alaba market in Lagos. Someone had a brain haemorrhage while answering the phone. After he died, someone checked the last number dialled and put 3 and 9 together to make 13.


Gbemi's Piece 6:03 pm  

Uncle Jeremy, abeg leave that thing. It is just too big to even deal with.

Olamild 6:30 pm  

Saying it isn't real would be ignorant my dear.
It's real in some cases
not ALL

Anonymous,  7:34 pm  

whilst I think its stupid not to do an autopsy, I have to say that juju is real - haven't seen it in action per se, but have witnessed some people around me change for the worse (unexplainedly).........

Anonymous,  7:44 pm  

choose your bogeyman Jeremy cos we all have our preferences; whether it's things that go bump in the night under the bed, flying witches with broomsticks or your garden variety african juju; whatever you fear is what holds you captive; that fear is rooted in culture and childhood, intertwined with the fabric of daily life and experiences and finds expression in often absurd ways....
i forgot what i was trying to say so i think i'll just stop now....

Anonymous,  8:53 pm  

thank you. I really needed that story right about then.. sad, empathetic..wistful even, and then the punch line.. Kepp telling y'all, this shit cannot be scripted. That said, make i leave dat ting, befor e come catch me too. (only half joking of course).

Mike,  8:58 pm  

Jeremy, presumably (and hopefully) in that 'juju mumbo jumbo' you include the Ifa Divination?

@Olamild - juju is a trick but that is all it is. 'Ignorant' to say it's not real? I don't think so. In fact I would say that saying it is real encourages (and some might say makes you complicit with) the likes of this

Atutupoyoyo 9:39 pm  

I can assure you Jeremy that Juju is very real. Just ask my Aunty who is now a Yam. She too had her doubts...........

CATWALQ a.k.a LAGBA-JESS 9:52 pm  

Juju works but the price is high to use it

All those scare tactics just have me in giggles. The consciousness of the lower human form

Akin 9:55 pm  

The reality of this should not be what is in dispute but can we first be logical, objective and probably scientific about these matters and eliminate clear indicators before we arrive at spiritual causes?

I am incensed by this stuff because I lost my great aunt to breast cancer 25 years ago - where she should have been receiving decent medical treatment and palliative care, she was locked up in excruciating pain with babalawos prescribing the full litany of Jewish and animist sacrifices to no avail because someone thought she was poisoned.

Not only do I have issue with the default to unexplained, unattributable but incredible spiritual causes, I also have issue with the great Nigerian killer; the brief illness.

I think it is time to pick this stuff up and deal with it, conduct a decent autopsy if you can still find a hospital that can do the stuff in Nigeria and find out exactly what killed the man that almost always could have been treated, if not prevented.

Nnamdi,  2:58 am  

Akin, thank you for taking sense.

It's amazing to see all these "educated" Nigerians saying "ah, it's true o."

Amazing. No wonder oyinbo people find it so easy to mock us.

Oracle 4:03 am  

The fact that you don't feel something doesn't mean that itz not there.
If there's good. there'd definitely be bad.
Juju, spiritual forces or evil power exists and it is very real.

Although we don't believe in such things we shouldn't decieve ourselves. Just pray for God's protection.
I think people should be big enough to know this.

Mike,  8:13 am  

@Oracle: "The fact that you don't feel something doesn't mean that itz not there."

Equally it doesn't mean that it is there.

"If there's good. there'd definitely be bad.
Juju, spiritual forces or evil power exists and it is very real."

Abeg the first sentence doesn't justify the second.

"Although we don't believe in such things we shouldn't decieve ourselves. Just pray for God's protection."

Oracle I see that the Bible is your favourite book. Read it well and you will see that the god you want us to turn to killed over 2 million people and satan killed just 10. Yeah, sure ask him for protection.

Please next time you read the bible read this version:

There are similar versions of the Koran and the book of Mormon on the site as well for those interested enough.

"It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."
Mark Twain

Jeremy 8:45 am  

Here's a thought: what if belief in juju/dark forces/people 'doing' other people etc is simply the remnants of a spiritual culture, when all the guiding posts have been stripped away?

Just as belief in witchcraft and spells slowly died out as Europe industrialised, perhaps the same will happen in time in Nigeria. Juju is simply the time-lag between pre-and-post-modern Nigeria.

Waffarian 9:36 am  

@Jeremy, you are so right but its not only "juju/dark forces", it is also the Bible, the Quoran, etc.

In fact, I will borrow ur sentence, but instead say: RELIGION is simply the time-lag between pre-and-post-modern Nigeria.

Anonymous,  12:40 pm  

i must add (at this late hour i know,) that my oyinbo roomates mama believed some wild and crazy shit... beyond black cats. Walking down the street with her was better than a gym membership because everything freaked her out, she was constantly crossing her self ( "In nomine patris" etc,) and quickly crossing the street immdiately after- so a simple trip from Safeway became interval training with weights (shopping bags!) and us zigzagging the streets of DC tring to keep up with her. My point really is that africans dont own this shit. i love what Anon says about what we fear holding us captive, and that is rooted in childhood and culture ( i almost typed "religion"). One of my favorite books in the world is Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Anonymous,  10:19 pm  

I don't know about Juju, but there are many people who have told me EXACTLY what was going to happen in the future. When I was at Jeremiah Camp in 1976, a lady came up to me, told me my entire life history, told me exactly what would happen to me, who I was going to marry, when I was going to get married to him, when I was going to get ill (the following year), how long the illness would last, what would become of my uncle's quest to become Lumobi at Imolefalaafia, how he would recover from his loss, how my sister (who was ill at the time) could be saved, etc. She also took the liberty of pointing out all the reasons the kids in the house were falling ill, and even went ahead and named the witch who lived with us. It was all very detailed and out in the open, and she did this to many other people she met on the streets of my village. Juju? Call it what you like! I don;t know about disappearing or turning into a yam, but there are forces out there. really, stop am.

Anonymous,  11:49 pm  

I find all these unsubstantiated things that people believe in so annoying. Not only that but they are scientifically impossible too. I made it a point to answer all phone calls.

In fact along with all those, I'll take your money to eat a healthy amount of garri and coke/pepsi.

(Where is the line between urban legend and juju in Africa?)


Talatu-Carmen 5:47 am  

hmmmm... Jeremy, somewhere between your Abuja carnival post and this one, I sniff an aporia somewhere...

Naapali 7:10 am  

I agree with the comments of the poster regarding the curse of the brief illness. It is sad that the most reasonable estimates of morbidity and mortality in Nigeria come from the CIA website. Sad that Nigerian newspapers are daily filled with obituaries of young people with phrases like "called to glory", "called home". Shallow phrases that do not challenge a healthcare system that cannot prevent hypertension from becoming cerebral hemorrhage, diabetes from becoming a myocardial infarction, the list goes on. Instead spiritual causes and calls to glory are the leading causes of death.

Anonymous,  8:47 pm  

no.... i must beg to differ but "spiritual causes" and "calls to glory" are not the leading causes of death but rather the ways we have found to soothe our psychic distress as a people; our pain arises from the sense of impotence we have about our circumstances, and frustration at our inability to successfully achieve self-determination even this late in the game;
sneer if you must, at this compensatory mechanism but recognise it for what it is; perhaps then we can begin a useful dialogue on the way forward....
again i think i'll stop right here
anonymous 7:44 pm

Jeremy 11:26 pm  

Some responses to the comments:

@ last anonymous on pyschic distress and the compensatory mechanism: great comment. The popularity of the more rabid aspects of evangelical christianity can be explained in this way: the powerful yearning for spiritual immediacy and presence in the face of the complete existential absence of anything like the divine in daily life for many people in Nigeria.

@ Person with the strange experience at Jeremiah Camp in '76: you'd be surprised how good tricksters and magicians are at pulling out a prognosis from small queues and auto-suggestions. Have you ever seen the British magician Derren Brown? He does some spooky things which resemble pure telepathy, but which in fact are an entire toolbox of nlp, hypnosis, auto-suggestion and the like. Many of the techniques are not hard to learn...

@ Mike: Ifa Divination is way more complex and multi-layered a phenomenon than simply giving up exploring the causes for a death by ascribing it to mystical forces. Its a shame you lump all these things together, but there you go.

@ Talatu-Carmen: not sure if there is a blindspot, for the same reasons as my response to Mike. Rejecting a knee-jerk ascription of an event to mystical forces does not mean one necessarily rejects the mystical entirely. However, where a solid scientific causal explanation can be found (via autopsy in this case), I don't see how anyone wishing to participate fully in the third millennium would wish to cling to the mystical.

My suspicion is that a lot of the spiritual illnesses in Nigeria are simply HIV turning into Aids. The illness is simply too taboo for many families to confront it by bringing it into language.

Coda: someone at work has now come down with a spiritual illness apparently.

Jeremy 11:29 pm  

typo in my second para: I meant cues not queues of course. John Coltrane was violently pulling my attention away from the keyboard as I wrote the sentence.

Mike,  12:04 pm  

Jeremy, I lump all these things together because whether one falsehood is more complex than the other is not a justification for its greater validity.

Ifa Divination might be complex, (not I think as complex as the various hard and software systems necessary to maintain your blog) but it is no more valid a belief than fairies, goblins and Mother Goose. Although if you have scientific evidence to prove otherwise I would of course be very interested in hearing about it.

By the way I am not the only one to lump it all together:

'Two developmental psychologists at Yale are now suggesting these and many other non-scientific beliefs—their list includes "unproven medical interventions; the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences; the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies; and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination"—all originate in childhood. Becoming scientifically literate, in their view, requires overcoming our early mental development.' From

Calabar Gal 3:15 pm  

Jeremy leave dat thing abeg. Its our country we know what goes on. Sad but true. LOL!!

Afolabi 6:25 pm  

@ anonymos 7:44...You got it jare....

Jeremy 6:35 pm  

Mike you're just revealing two things about yourself in your comments: 1) you know nothing about Ifa divination and 2) you don't believe in anything that lies outside of scientific proof.

Ifa is a highly mathematical interpretative system that is the framework for good ethical conduct in Yoruba culture. As Erik Davis writes,

The orisha are highly evolved archetypal patterns, and they work out metaphysical problems in the heart of life.

Taken from here:

More than anything, through the figure of Esu (the messenger spirit), we learn not to take any interpretation as 100% of the truth, scientific or otherwise.

Mike,  10:48 pm  

Jeremy, with regards to your first point I quote two useful references:

"Would you need to read learned volumes on Leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?" Dawkins

and the Courtier's Reply:

You are quite wrong, In spite of the quotes above I do know something about Ifa - but based on the above I just didn't consider it relevant to demonstrate it.

Your second point is not exactly true as I would include 'reason' alongwith science. I can hear the open mind argument being chanted right about now but Dawkins again sums this up beautifully: "There's this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out."

Erik Davis - methinks a first order leprechologist. An even stranger guy is here:

You might like his free book...

Jeremy 5:04 pm  

Mike: apart from attempting to sound like an all-knowing contrarian, I'm not really sure what your point is.

Ifa divination can be understood as a hermeneutic practice, uncovering the magic within ourselves and our relation to nature. Dismissing this system of understanding without any substantive argument (as you are wont), or trying to be all superior by claiming that you do know about Ifa but chose not to discuss this is pure intellectual laziness - as is comparing the Yoruba spiritual world view with knee-jerk superstition.

As for relying on Dawkins: here is someone who takes his atheism to almost mystical extremes. Dawkins must remain silent on any of the bigger questions - his hard-headed approach to explanation has no vocabulary available.

Western science and rationality has been incredibly useful, but it has hit the buffers on the deeper questions. At the most advanced reaches of theoretical physics (beyond string theory into m-theory), it has become mythical, postulating parallel universes nanometers from our own.

As Deleuze suggested 40 years ago, it may be that the limits of thought and enquiry must always end in paradox. Eshu would approve.

I'm not sure what you would say to all this however, as you say so little that isn't an exhausted attempt at critique.

anengiyefa,  7:52 pm  

"Shallow phrases that do not challenge a healthcare system that cannot prevent hypertension from becoming cerebral hemorrhage, diabetes from becoming a myocardial infarction,..."

Healthcare system? What healthcare system??

Anthony Arojojoye 5:43 pm  

I don't blame you Jeremy.
Ka nipe won ti gba e loruka ni, iwo a ti mo wassup!

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